Extract: The Other Son by Alexander Soderberg
How far would you go to protect your family?
Sophie Brinkmann was once an ordinary woman. A dedicated nurse, a grieving widow, a single mother to a beloved teenage son. And then she fell in love with a major crime lord. When he was left in a coma after a brutal attack by his rivals, it was Sophie who had to take control of his empire and negotiate with vengeful mobsters, cunning detectives and charismatic arms dealers. But now their rivals are closing in on them and Sophie is caught up in a game where the rules are constantly changing, where loyalty and friendship are meaningless. If she and her son are to get out of this alive, she has to find her inner strength – and her inner darkness.
Read on for an extract from this dark, thrilling novel!
The Other Son
The vehicle was driving fast, swerving wildly, accelerating and braking erratically. Sophie couldn’t hear properly. Everything was muffled, as if she were underwater. The ambulance sirens blaring out into the dark night sounded dull and distant.
A harsh, cold blue light kept swirling in and out of the space around her. She was lying on a stretcher, strapped down, as she felt the ambulance lurch.
She tried to look around. The back of the ambulance felt like a tunnel, as though it had been stretched. Everything was like a feverish dream.
She could see Jens, which made her feel more secure. He made his way towards her. Dully she heard him try to comfort her, tell her that everything was going to be all right. But she didn’t believe him. Because his whole face was saying the opposite. He radiated anxiety and sorrow.
She whispered the name of the person who had stabbed her with the knife, repeating the name to Jens twice.
There was a paramedic beside her, working hard and intently.
She looked down at herself, managing to raise her head ever so slightly. The blanket tucked tightly around her was covered in blood.
He had twisted the knife inside her; she remembered that. First he had thrust it into her as deeply as he could, then he had twisted it, to and fro, to cause as much damage as possible, to kill her.
An itchy chill enveloped her, a nausea made more oppressive by an immense physical weakness that seemed to emanate from her neck or somewhere around there. That was followed by a dizzying sense that she was upside down, weightless, in an altered state, that she was at the point of toppling over a cliff, a boundary, and losing everything. Sophie couldn’t hold on. The chill was getting worse, cutting through her whole being, and she started to shake, the shakes radiating through her entire body, hard and uncontrollable. The paramedic was above her, holding her body down onto the stretcher with all his weight, trying to keep her still. She looked into his eyes and saw fear in them.
And then she realised what was happening. Sophie heard herself say ‘No’ several times. No, dear God I can’t do this, not now . . .
She realised she was about to die.
Four weeks earlier
The coffee was sweet, black and treacly.
Sophie left it untouched, as did Aron, who was sitting beside her in the lavish room listening to Basir, the fat Turk opposite them on the other side of the desk, as he tried to haggle and gain the upper hand.
Behind Basir’s bulky frame sat his silent bodyguard. Wiry, swarthy and alert, he sat there observing everything. The bodyguard had searched them brusquely and thoroughly before the meeting began. Everything was fine now. Basir smiled at them as if they were old friends. But they had never met before. Basir was a front, the weapons were destined to end up somewhere else. Where didn’t matter. But he was important because he was the one they were negotiating with. Basir was very talkative. He babbled and chattered as if the sheer quantity of words he uttered would improve his position, rather than what he was actually saying.
Sophie interrupted him.
‘We’ll send the goods through, and you’ll have to get them out,’ she said. ‘Everything has to go smoothly, otherwise it could all grind to a halt. And if it grinds to a halt, there’s a greater risk of mistakes
Basir dismissed her concern with a wave of his hand.
‘I know this city. I know everyone, the police, customs officers, transport officials. This is my city; everything will be fine, trust me.’
The room was ostentatious, overblown. Everything was dark red – thick carpets, long curtains, big, heavy furniture, brass ornaments all over the place.
‘So what do you need us for, then?’ Sophie asked.
His smile wavered slightly.
‘You’ve got the weapons,’ he said.
‘And we’ll supply them in small consignments over a period of four months. That’s how we’re going to do this.’
‘And we’ll pay after each consignment,’ Basir said. ‘That’s the best way, believe me,’ he repeated.
‘I believe you, but that isn’t what’s going to happen.’ She smiled.
Basir looked offended. ‘Isn’t it?’
A phone rang twice in a neighbouring room.
She said calmly, ‘You pay in one instalment, for everything. Payable now.’
He glanced quickly at his watch.
‘What if it does grind to a halt, if something happens? If we lose a consignment?’ he asked.
‘Are you in a hurry?’ she asked.
He pretended not to understand.
‘You looked at the time,’ Sophie explained.
‘I do that occasionally. Don’t you?’ His laugh sounded false and put-on. Almost like a cough.
He wasn’t what she had been expecting, Basir. According to the people who had helped set up the deal, Basir was supposed to be a reasonable man. Calm, straightforward and uncomplicated, with a degree of honour in his approach to business, the nature of his business notwithstanding. But this man was quite different from that.
‘Yes, when I’m in a hurry,’ she said.
‘Well, I’m not in a hurry.’ He laughed again.
Everything felt very peculiar. Sophie glanced at Aron to see if he was feeling the same as she. He was busy studying Basir.
‘What was your question?’ she asked the Turk.
‘Yes, what was my question . . . ?’ he muttered, slightly bewildered, as he cast a glance at his bodyguard, who replied quietly in Turkish without taking his eyes off Aron.
‘If we lose a consignment . . .’ Basir said.
‘You won’t,’ Sophie said. ‘You just said so, because you know everyone. You know what goes on in this city. It’s yours.’
‘True.’ He laughed again. He was getting more nervous.
Sophie considered the situation. She had a feeling that he saw these negotiations as something to be endured, and that he wanted to get away. That his reasons for sitting there were quite different from hers. That this wasn’t about doing business at all. Because if it were, this wasn’t the way it was done.
‘So, what do you say, Basir?’ she asked.
He pretended to think. Beads of sweat had broken out on his forehead. He was off-balance.
‘Let’s do as you say, then,’ he said. ‘We pay you now; you arrange to send us the weapons as you suggested. That’s probably best.’
Just like that? She could feel Aron’s electrified reaction beside her. He felt the same as she.
The bodyguard adjusted his position on the chair. Aron noticed.
‘Thank you, Basir,’ she said.
‘Stay and have coffee with us,’ he said.
The mistakes were coming thick and fast now. You didn’t drink coffee after a deal. Not with a man like this. You drank it before. And they had already done that. Stillborn chat that didn’t go anywhere.
She turned to Aron. He was staring at Basir, reading him like an open book.
‘Aron?’ she asked.
‘I know,’ he said quietly. They heard heavy footsteps on the stairs outside the closed door. Steps that were making their way up towards them.
The bodyguard reached for the gun in his shoulder holster. Aron threw himself at him as Sophie rushed towards the door behind them. No key, just a handle. She grabbed hold of a chair and wedged the back of it under the handle. The bodyguard was out cold. Aron had moved on to Basir, and had him on the floor. A lead paperweight on the desk took care of the thickset Turk.
Heavy thuds against the door.
They were on the fourth floor. No way out apart from the door.
Aron grabbed the bodyguard’s pistol, tipped the desk over and aimed the gun at the door. Sophie crouched down next to the door. The blows got heavier. The door was about to give way.
At a signal from Aron she pulled the chair away and the door flew open.
Aron fired several shots in quick succession, moving the pistol a few centimetres from side to side, until the magazine was empty and the gun started to click. Then he vanished behind the desk.
Silence. Gunpowder, the smell of cordite. Sophie stared at a point on the floor, trying to focus. Her heart was pounding so hard in her chest she thought it must be audible throughout the room.
Suddenly Aron was at her side, pulling her to her feet and tucking her behind him.
‘We’re going down; stick close to me. When I say stop, you stop. When I say move, you move.’
They left the room, stepping over a dead body in the doorway. There was another one lying on its back farther down the stairs. Sophie tried not to look. Aron picked up a pistol beside the body and moved on cautiously. He gave her quiet instructions. A few minutes later they reached the ground floor. There was life outside, mopeds, motorbikes, people.
He told her to wait while he checked the street. Then he waved her to him.
The smell of exhaust fumes hit her as she emerged onto the street.
They melted into the crowd and began to walk away quickly. She turned around after a while and found herself meeting the gaze of a man who was making his way towards them through the mass of people. A big man, almost six feet tall, swarthy, moving quickly and determinedly.
‘Aron!’ she said.
He had seen the man too and grabbed Sophie by the arm and began to run, then he let go. Sophie stayed close to him. Adrenaline was coursing through her body, shielding her from strong emotions. She just had to get away, get to safety.
They hurried through an alley crowded with people, forcing and shoving their way through. She glanced back behind her; the man was gaining on them. He was quicker, more agile.
A large square opened up at the end of the alley.
‘Out there,’ Aron said.
But it was completely open. She wanted to object, say that they should try to hide, but Aron had already set off and she hurried after him.
Out in the open square he stopped abruptly, then quickly gave her clear instructions: ‘We’re splitting up. Get to the airport and go home. Make sure no one follows you, and don’t try to contact me. I’ll contact you!’
Aron was focused. He always was whenever things went to hell. He took out the pistol, sank down on one knee and took aim at the man as he emerged into the square.
‘Get out of here, now!’ he snapped at her.
Aron aimed and squeezed the trigger, but the gun just clicked.
The adrenaline that had carried her this far began to fade. Fear and anxiety were creeping up on her, taking over. Her breathing was heavy and laboured as she ran off towards the far side of the square. She glanced back and saw Aron run towards the man and attack him with military precision, raining blows and kicks on him before they fell to the ground.
She carried on to the other side of the square. Streets, faces coming towards her, strong smells. Sophie didn’t know where she was going, just that she was getting away. She ran for twenty minutes through a maze of narrow passageways and alleys.
She came to a restaurant that opened onto a lively pedestrianised street, relatively empty inside. She went and sat down at a table in the gloom at the back of the restaurant, where she had a good view of the room and the street outside. Still trembling, down to her very core, she ordered some water.
She wondered if Aron had got away OK or if the man was hunting her now. Sophie tried to think. They had been planning the meeting for a long time. Minutely, everything checked in detail. The people, the location, the circumstances. They had analysed, scrutinised, tried to predict everything. It had felt like a secure operation for them. So secure that Aron had for the first time left the hiding place in Spain where he was watching over Hector. This deal was going to be big. And they needed the money.
But things had turned out very differently. Why?
A waiter brought her a bottle of water and a glass, put them down on the table in front of her, then walked off. She unscrewed the bottle, didn’t bother with the glass and took deep gulps straight from the bottle. She put it down and tried to catch her breath.
She had been doing this for six months, doing as she was told, doing everything Aron told her to do. Travelling around and meeting Hector’s business partners – criminal, manipulative, untrustworthy people whom she despised, most of them grown men with the mind of a child, unpredictable, impulsive and ultimately extremely dangerous. The main purpose of her travels was always to calm the situation and reassure people that Hector was fine and was directing operations from his hiding place. But that was a lie. Things weren’t good, and Hector wasn’t directing operations from his hiding place. He was in a coma, a deep coma after he and Sophie had been attacked when they were making their way from the airport in Málaga to Hector’s father’s house in Marbella six months earlier.
Aron was running the organisation now, among other things. But Ernst, Leszek and she herself were all helping. Everything to keep the sinking ship afloat. Her role as a sort of outward face of the organisation stemmed from the fact that no one else could take on that role. Aron and Leszek were both highly intelligent. But they were men of action, violent men. Ernst was extremely logical but was socially inept, incapable of dealing with people. So Sophie ended up doing it, and she was good at it.
But she hated the position she was in. She was frightened. Frightened when she went to bed at night, frightened when she woke up. She didn’t want to be, she wanted to be free. But she had no choice. Hector had bound her to his organisation before he got shot. She was a threat to them; she knew too much. Which was why Aron had put her in the position she was now in. As long as she was working for them, she was involved, part of everything, an accomplice. Which meant that she was controllable, less of a threat. And everything depended on Hector. Her fate was in his hands, even when he was lying there out of reach in his coma. Hector liked her. Aron knew that. If it hadn’t been for the relationship between Sophie and Hector, Aron would have driven her out into the woods and shot her long ago; she was convinced of that.
Sophie was trapped, and would be until Hector woke up. If he woke up . . .
And if he died? Then, in all likelihood, so would she.
Four hours later she was on her way home. Istanbul disappeared beneath her as the plane climbed. The city was vast, stretching out in every direction.
Sophie held her hands tightly clasped together.
She landed at Arlanda Airport in Stockholm, and showed her fake passport at customs. She passed through the arrivals hall, emerged into the cold January air and got into a taxi.
The security arrangements were always the same. She would make great detours to get to wherever she was going. Today was no exception. She changed taxis twice. No one was following her. That was the rule she had to stick to.
Eventually Sophie arrived home at her apartment on Eriksbergsgatan. She and Albert lived there under false names. They had left their villa out in Stocksund a few months earlier. All things considered, that apartment might well be the safest place for them.
He was awake even though it was late, and rolled his wheelchair out into the hall when she came in.
‘Hello, Albert,’ she said.
He didn’t ask where she’d been; he never did. A tacit agreement between them. The less he knew, the safer he was.
‘I’ll make some tea,’ he said, and rolled into the kitchen.
She followed him, and sat down on a stool. She hid for a while, pretending to leaf through a newspaper on the counter.
From the corner of her eye, he seemed like he could have been a little boy. But he wasn’t. Almost seventeen. A teenager, careful about his appearance, sporty, keen to do all he could to live as normal a life as possible in spite of his spinal injury.
But obviously life was different since he had been run down by a car six months earlier: he had fewer friends, but Anna was still there. Sophie could see the love between them, it was real. That was more than enough for her. But there was something else, too. A sadness that he couldn’t handle, that she couldn’t handle, that they couldn’t talk about.
‘Green or black?’ he asked.
‘Black, please,’ she said.
She let it live inside her. Sometimes it grew and swelled up, becoming immense, taking so much space that on a few occasions she had been physically forced to throw up. She knew that nothing could make it disappear. It was always there, firmly anchored in every aspect of her life – her guilt. Because the consequences of her actions were the reason why he was sitting in that wheelchair. Her fault. Indirectly, a more kindly disposed person would say. But directly or indirectly, the result was the same when it came to her son.
Her fault . . .
Sophie had been playing a devious game. Imagined she could control the situation. But she couldn’t. On one side she had a police officer, Gunilla Strandberg, who wanted her to inform on Hector Guzman, who was on the other side. Sophie had tried to find a path somewhere between the two of them, had tried to do the right thing. But the police were corrupt. There was no right option. It led to Gunilla’s gorillas driving into Albert when they tried to kidnap him in order to blackmail Sophie. He broke his back, so high up his spine that he would probably never get out of that wheelchair.
Her fault . . .
Sophie went on leave from her work as a nurse at the hospital to take care of Albert at home. Her guilt and grief went hand in hand, and seemed to grow as time passed. She had figured out that she shouldn’t fight it, just let it grow, as part of her. A sick part that had the paralysing power to take control of her entire life at any time.
But it was very different for Albert. To start with, after the accident, she had been amazed at the ease with which he seemed to accept his fate. But that had changed as everything became routine and commonplace. When he realised the consequences of his injury. Old friends who kept their distance and became oddly polite. The loneliness, isolation, the feeling of not being part of things.
She could see how vulnerable he was. And finally the inevitable happened. Despair and grief crashed into his life two months after the accident, becoming large and powerful, terrorising him day and night as he struggled against them in silence. But the battle was unequal and unfair. Albert gave up and surrendered. She wanted to tell him not to give in, to try to hold it all at bay, at a distance. But how could she tell him? He had to find his own way and deal with this himself. Sophie let him be, and suffered in her own inability to help him. And from having put him in this position.
Her fault . . .
So there she sat, Sophie Brinkmann, with her beloved son, Albert, about to drink tea. Earlier that day she had negotiated a weapons deal, people had been shot around her and she herself had only just escaped with her life . . .
There was no longer any logic to life. Everything was upside down.
The kettle whistled on the stove, and Albert rolled over and lifted it off. The whistling soon stopped.
‘Do you feel like a game?’ he asked as he poured the steaming water into two large cups.
He meant chess. She always lost.
‘Definitely.’ She smiled.